I thought it was cancer....

"It's a very odd feeling when you discover a lump in/on your body. I usually describe to people that it feels like a sense of impending doom, bordering on disbelief with a hint of "Are you kidding me?". I found a lump on my left testicle when I was 17 years old. As soon as I felt it, I thought it was cancer.

I really didn't know too much about my health besides that I should eat and exercise healthily and that I probably should not smoke cigarettes with my friends. In a sense, I was innocently ignorant of what I should know and what I should be doing to make sure I was the healthiest I can possibly be. The internet wasn't really then around like it is now. Even if you had access to it, it was at one of your school library's two designated computers that had dial-up service with about twenty other students waiting in line to use them. Needless to say, I had limited options to figure out what this lump was besides telling my parents and having them make an appointment for me with my primary care physician. Seems easy enough, right? I should have just told my parents.

Well, not exactly. A 17 year-old young man usually has reservations bringing up most health concerns to anybody, let alone his parents, and particularly when it involves anything below the belt and above the thighs. If the health problem involved the penis, testicles, or anus, forget about it. Young men, nay, most men, will have difficulties telling someone. I chose to keep it to myself and worry.

Fast forward two months. Every day for the past 60-odd days I thought about this lump. I felt this lump. I tried to explain this lump away. It didn't go away. I broke down and told my parents. They booked an appointment. In about two weeks I was referred to a urologist as my primary care physician couldn't rule out cancer. Those two weeks were probably the longest of my life. Every waking second I thought the worst and felt completely miserable, angry, afraid, and embarrassed. It was a terrible feeling. Horrible. 

Fast forward two weeks. The urologist performed some exams. Normal things like family history, physical checks of this and of that. He examined my groin. In reality it was about ten seconds but in my 17 year-old mind he examined me for about twenty years. These feelings of mortality, morbidity, confusion, apprehension just started to boil over. I literally felt my emotions starting to physically manifest as I started to tear up a bit as I was for sure thinking he was going to tell me I had cancer, I was going to die, and that it was somehow my fault, and that I should be ashamed to my parent's son. Seems a bit dramatic, but how do you know what you will feel when you're in a situation like that? You don't.

Fast forward ten seconds. He sat me down....looked me in the eye....he told me that I didn't have cancer and that I had something called a varicocele and that it's not too big of an issue if I got it treated. He told me it was like having a varicose vein on my testicle, it was treatable, and that a lot of men have this. But, I didn't hear anything really except that fact that I was going to live....

...I could breathe again. I started to cry. Probably the fifth time in my life I had this salty substance emanate from my eyes. I was a man, you know? Men don't cry, right? Nonsense. Men do cry. Boys do cry. I cried. I assume it was tears of joy or it may have been tears of anger or even relief. But, I cried. Openly and without shame. I didn't have cancer and I was going to live.

Fast forward ten years. During my doctoral training, the varicocele "came back". I had to undergo treatment for it again. It was at that point I promised that whatever I could do to help other men and boys out about their health, that I would do it. I now had the opportunity to be able to help them. I was getting trained in public health and I was going to put it to good use.

I started the Men's Health Initiative, Inc. in 2010 and haven't looked back. My wife, Kathy, and I both dedicate our lives to helping those who are most in need. For all those boys and men (and loved ones who look out for them), those out there who are too afraid to say something, those who don't know how to say it, those who don't know what to do next, or anyone out there who just wants "to know"...we are here for you. We want to help....and that's what we are doing now. Helping and hopefully making a difference."

                                                                -Michael J. Rovito, 2015


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